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Full text of "A story about a real man"

336                                                                                                     B. POLEVOI
up the slippery, clayey slope, the airman found the going
difficult and pulled himself up by clutching at the bushes,
but he did not lean on his stick.
In the messroom, his tiredness vanished at once. He
chose a table near the window from which we could see
the cold, red glare of the sunset, which airmen regard as
a forecast of windy weather the next day, eagerly gulped
down a large mugful of water, and chaffed the good-
looking, curly-haired waitress about a friend she had in
hospital, because of whom, the airman said, she made life
a misery for all the others. He ate with relish and gnawed
the bone of his mutton chop with his strong teeth. He
exchanged banter with his comrades at the next table,
asked me to tell him what was new in Moscow, about
the latest books and plays, and regretted that he had never
been to a Moscow theatre. When we had finished the third
course—bilberry jelly, which the airmen here called
"thundercloud"—he asked me:
"Have you fixed up lodgings for tonight?" I said, "No."
"Then come and stay in my dugout," he said. He frowned
for a moment and added in a low voice: "My room-mate
did not return today ... so there's a spare bunk. I'll dig up
some fresh bed linen. Come on, then."
Evidently, he was one of those who were fond of
chatting with a new arrival. I consented. We descended
into the ravine, on both slopes of which, amidst thick
growths of wild raspberry, lungwort and willow-herb and
the raw smell of decaying leaves and mushrooms, the
dugouts were built.
When the wick of the smoky homemade kerosene-lamp
known as "Stalingradka" was well alight and lit up the
interior of the dugout, the latter proved to be rather
spacious and cosy, and looked as if it had been long in-
habited. In recesses dug in the clayey walls were two neat
bunks covered with mattresses made of ground sheets
filled with fresh, fragrant hay. Some young birch-trees,
their leaves still fresh, were stuck in the corners "for the
aroma", as the flyer explained. Neat, straight shelves had
been cut in the walls amidst over the bunks, and on
the shelves, which were covered with newspaper, lay
stacks of books, shaving tackle and a cake of soap and a
tooth-brush. Over the head of one of the bunks could be